Does Your Vote Count?

In light of the quote I included in a recent article about Gary Johnson (and in light of the creeping up date of November 6), “A wasted vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in”, I sought to find reason behind this statement and ones similar to it surrounding the theory of voting.

History would nudge us to believe that some votes don’t “count”. For example, in numbers of U.S. presidential elections the most popular candidate did not win.

Why do some economists, specifically, choose not to vote and claim, “voting doesn’t pay”? Game theory states that your vote only matters when it is pivotal – or has the ability to sway the outcome. But in an election with 100 million voters it is estimated that the odds of your vote being pivotal are less than .01 percent but this is assuming that candidates are equally as favored – making the actual estimate even lower. In all of voting history a single vote has never determined the outcome of an election.

But what if no one votes? What these calculations miss are the behaviors of others, and there will always be some mathematical equilibrium at which your vote would actually sway the election if enough people believe that their vote doesn’t count.

Casting a vote also has other benefits to the individual aside from being “powerful”, such as sending a signal, and a feeling of internal fulfillment.

Contrary to Johnson’s quote, is the phenomenon of vote splitting where a third party candidate can “ruin” an election and give the dissimilar candidates a voting advantage. According to William Poundstone, this effect has spoiled 11 percent of elections since 1828. This also assumes that those voting for the third party candidate would have voted for the person who lost, had they spent their vote differently. But some believe that even by technically voting for someone they know will not win, that signal they sent with their vote might pay off in later elections by getting their preferred party more recognition and respect.

So how can we truly make elections “fair”? There have been different voting systems suggested, such as range voting, in the past that may be less swayed by strategy, but until then the only choice is to understand the way the system works, and inform others.

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